Since undergoing triple-bypass surgery four years ago, King Diamond has returned with a shrieking satanic vengeance. After dominating European festivals with a series of comeback performances that culminated in front of 92,000 fans at Wacken Open Air in Germany this summer, the artist formerly known as Kim Bendix Petersen and his band will embark on their first US tour in nearly a decade. The tour will be followed by a double-disc best-of collection that features tracks personally selected by King and longtime KD guitarist Andy LaRocque from both their Roadrunner and Metal Blade catalogs. Sometime next year, we can likely expect the first new King Diamond album since 2007’s Give Me Your Soul…Please. And then maybe, just maybe, the revered Danish Satanist and owner of the most unique voice in heavy metal might reunite with his old band Mercyful Fate. We recently called King at his home in suburban Dallas to pump him for information.
Noisey: You’re preparing for your first US tour since 2005. What’s your mindset right now?
King Diamond: I don’t think we’ve ever been more confident. We can’t wait to fill people’s minds with this imagery and create these memories. Our new production, the set list, the whole thing really flows. We’re gonna do four days’ rehearsal in Dallas before we go off. The shipping container with the production just arrived in Houston, the stage we had in Europe, and it’s massive. I think our touring party will be 18 people total, including the band but not including drivers. We’ll have two buses to fit everybody.
In your pre-Mercyful Fate days, you played in a band called Black Rose—you guys used pigs’ heads and animal blood as stage props. Modern black metal bands like Watain, Gorgoroth, and Mayhem are using that stuff today. Do you feel partially responsible?
I know—they bathe in it, practically! We would not do that. Pig’s blood fucking stinks so bad, you know? I don’t think Black Rose inspired them to do that stuff, though. Not many people are aware of what Black Rose did back then. They probably came up with that themselves or read about it. It’s ritualistic in certain ways, and very much their own thing.
At the very least you must feel like you’ve come a long way since then…
Oh yeah, we did everything ourselves back in those days. I even made the powders for the flash bombs—I was mixing magnesium with oxygens to make these explosions. But now we worry about things like the timing of a coffin opening, where the crosses go, where the baphomets go, what colors the lights are during certain songs. But it’s super now—it’s what we’ve wanted the whole time. Now we can actually present ourselves like we’ve wanted to for our whole life.
Over the past few years, there’s been a massive resurgence in interest in King Diamond and Mercyful Fate. What do you attribute that to?
I think the music is coming full circle. After I had the surgery, [Metal Blade Records founder] Brian Slagel kept saying, “You’ll see—King Diamond is coming around again.” And he was absolutely right. We’ve been playing very high up in the running on these festivals in Europe lately. But people in the US haven’t seen us yet, you know? So there’s some uncertainty, especially because there’s so much traffic out there when we’re doing these shows. But then you see New York sell out in three hours. I think five or six of the shows are sold out now. So it’s really nice.
You’ve got a new best-of collection coming out in November. What can you tell us about it?
Andy and I spent so much time on it, but we finally finished. It’s a double-disc set, with the Metal Blade and Roadrunner material together for the first time ever, so it spans the whole career. For the first time, Andy and I got to select the songs, and we enhanced them. Roadrunner did the gold re-masters a few years ago, and they were louder, yes, but that was the only thing they had going for them. The detail was cluttered up by too much compression. So Andy and I went back and found the earliest versions of the songs that we could and enhanced them. So when you get this double-disc, you’ll get a lot more bottom end without losing the feel of it. It sounds definitely better, man.
What’s the status of the new King Diamond album?
Now that we’ve got my home studio finished, we’re up and running. We’ll probably get started after the tour, early next year.
You’ve said that some of the lyrics for the new album will be inspired by the experiences you had during your bypass surgery and recovery period…
Whatever the story is for the new album, it will definitely have some of that in it for sure.
You had some strange experiences during that period.
When I came to after the surgery, I was lying in the hospital bed and I could only see in black-and-white, and I felt like I was being choked to death slowly. It was the breathing tube, and it was the worst feeling I’ve ever felt. Before I went under they told me that if I felt like I could breathe on my own when I woke up, I should try and signal that to them. But there was no one there when I woke up. My wife was actually there, but I couldn’t see her. I was about to go into a panic, like I was dying, so I started to try and pull the tube out of my mouth. My wife saw me and stopped me and called for the nurses to come. Three of them came in and they were leaning over me, like that camera angle when someone is in a spaceship and the aliens are ready to do experiments on you. But it was all still black-and-white. It was so strange. And instead of helping me, they tied me down to the bed. I couldn’t communicate with them, but if they could have heard me, they would have heard me pleading for them to kill me.
It’s like that Metallica song, “One.”
Exactly! I was like, “Fucking kill me. I can’t stand this!” But you have no chance to communicate. It’s worse than anything you can imagine it. You hear the horror stories of people being put under before surgery but they’re still alert and they feel everything. But if you’re not under at all, the pain is total. And then after they strapped me down, they told my wife to leave, and they put me back under heavily. When I came to the second time, they let her come back.
How long were you in the hospital?
Ten days. But I actually got to go home a little earlier than most people who have the surgery because [King’s wife] Livia was helping to clean my wounds—she did some of that work for them so they could see she could do it at home. And then I had to prove I could breathe on my own. I basically had to learn to breathe again, to be strong enough in the lungs to blow this little plastic ball up in a tube before they would let me go home. They had to collapse my lungs for the surgery, and they needed to see that they wouldn’t re-collapse in my sleep again. So I had to train myself and get that plastic ball up. I also had to prove I could walk, so my life became like re-living that line from the song “The Graveyard”—“walking the halls at night.” When Livia would leave the hospital at two or three in the morning, I’d walk down the hall with her and then go from nurse station to nurse station all night long. I didn’t sleep well because I still had tubes going into my side and I was having nightmares all the time. Eventually I got to go home, but it was a rollercoaster.
And that’s when things started to get really weird…
For a while I wasn’t sure I was really here. I really had to ask and get confirmation from Livia. We’d be out for our health walks and I’d grab her shoulder and say, “Can you feel this?” Or she’d be sitting there doing work on the computer and I’d be watching the news on television, and I’d say, “Can you see me? Tell me what I’m doing…” For two or three months, it was like that. The first couple of days were terrible. I had to walk everyday, but my feet were so swollen they wouldn’t fit in my shoes. It was December, and I had to walk in the snow in my socks. I had to do half a mile every day at first, and I could barely do it. It was brutal. The whole thing was like starting over—learn to walk, learn to breathe. I was so weak I could barely lift a glass to drink out of. When they cut your chest down the middle like that, all the muscles and nerves have to reconnect again. It’s terrible.
Would you say you’re close to a hundred percent now?
I’ll never be a hundred percent again. I’m so much better than before and my voice is better than ever because I quit smoking, but I’m still dealing with a slipped disc that bothers me. If I miss my walk two or three days in a row, it hurts. But fuck, I’m alive, you know? I have to take what I can get. The good thing is that I can sing better than ever, and I have a new breathing technique that works great. If you sing the way I do, I get about one-fifth of the oxygen that the other guys in the band get. It doesn’t make anything easier. Plus I’m up and down the stairs in our new production, and it’s a 90-minute set.
You recently appeared on Eddie Trunk’s podcast with Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel. When Eddie asked you about the possibility of Mercyful Fate shows, Slagel chimed in and said he was gonna make sure that happened. Where do you stand on the possibility of Mercyful Fate shows?
I’m just waiting for Brian to tell me how that’s going to be possible! [Laughs] I’m not saying no, of course, but it would have to be done right. It would never be allowed to cut into King Diamond’s time. That’s the absolute most important thing. But it would be crazy to say there’s no chance it would happen.
You’re probably the most famous member of the Church Of Satan after founder Anton LaVey. What kind of role does the Church play in your life these days?
It’s with me everyday, but it’s not like I need to talk to someone from the Church to confirm it. I’m actually gonna call Karla [LaVey, Anton’s daughter] so I can hook up with her when we’re in San Francisco, but I am what I am, and I’ve always been what I am. My thoughts have not changed. It’s not a religion—it never was. It’s a life philosophy. I see myself as a spiritual person, but I don’t think anyone should claim proof of a god. No one can prove it. That’s why I don’t claim to know whether there are one, many or no gods. But my beliefs have only gotten stronger as a result of my experiences.
When I visited you last year, you showed me a letter that Anton LaVey had written you. You said I would forget its contents after reading it, and I did. I know you won’t say what’s written in it, but could you talk about its significance to you?
The letter that I showed you, I always have it with me on tour. That experience of meeting Dr. LaVey, going to the Church and getting certain confirmations meant so much to me, but I didn’t need the Satanic Bible to confirm my life philosophy. I already saw things that way before I ever read the book, but it was very interesting to see it in writing. And then to meet them and see how serious they were about what they were doing—it wasn’t just some gimmick for money. I met with LaVey, just him and I, for an hour and a half in the ritual chamber. I told him how I felt and he took his baphomet symbol off and pressed it into my hand. And then he let me in on some things that you saw in that letter, which I told you you’d forget about. [Laughs] Everyone who has seen it will forget it.
J. Bennett still has no idea what that goddamn letter says.